Legacy of Racism Is A Problem in America
I’m interested in Walter Williams’ analysis of Black Americans’ struggles. His argument is that their greatest threat is having access to a social safety net. His recent op-ed, “Blame Liberalism for many of Black Americans Problems” argues, among other things, that the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination has no causal effect on their current plight.
Being an economist, Mr. Williams has written a lot about capitalism. I’m sure he understands that having access to capital is a requirement to adequately access necessities such as food, shelter and education in our current economic system. If people lack capital, then they need state or private assistance for basic sustenance until they can acquire it on their own. This is because most resources such as land, buildings, food etc., are privately owned, and the owners’ needs are typically placed above those who are in need.
If an individual or family in crisis has extended family with capital, they are more likely to weather a financial crisis by moving in with family, receiving a loan or gift, etc. This “inter-generational wealth” is further entrenched through the use of inheritance. To put it another way, if your parents have wealth, then you’re more likely to have it too. This is why any financial planner worth their salt will advise you to save for your child’s education and to create a trust for them if possible.
Back to the legacy of chattel slavery in the U.S., it’s common knowledge that the United States promised reparations to freed slaves in the form of 40 acres and a mule (although the mule wasn’t in the original order) and then subsequently failed to deliver due to pressure from parties such as business owners and the KKK. Reparations were important because not only were formerly enslaved people deprived of their freedom, they were deprived of the fruits of their labor (capital) This deprivation continued during Jim Crow in the form of discriminatory wages and unjust incarceration (imprisonment of blacks exploded after the 13th Amendment passed).
Mr. Williams is right to point out that there was a time in the late 1800s where black and white unemployment was the same, but his analysis falls short because blacks were paid significantly less than whites for the same work.
This discrimination has continued well into contemporary times, just in slightly different forms. Black individuals today are more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than whites, despite drug use among whites and blacks being roughly equal. Today you are less likely to be refused work due to your skin color, but you are more likely to be arrested and convicted because of it, and then refused employment due to felony status. This is the dominant form of systematic racism today: mass incarceration.
There are certainly flaws with the social safety net. Mr. Williams pointed out one: that single mothers are discouraged from marrying because they may lose benefits. If anything, this is an argument to increase benefits, not scrap them, unless Mr. Williams believes society will benefit from economically forced marriage. FYI, economics is one reason people stay in abusive relationships.
I am not convinced the social safety net is to blame. Exploitation and systemic racism, which have always gone hand in hand, should receive the pointed finger.